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Heart Attack: Causes, Symptoms,Treatment, And Prevention

A heart attack (a.k.a Myocardial Infarction) is a major medical emergency that occurs due to the restricted blood supply to the heart. Thus the heart tissues begin to die. It occurs due to the buildup of cholesterol deposits in the coronary arteries, thereby restricting the blood flow to the heart.

Heart attack

What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack occurs when the cardiac tissues begin to die due to lack of blood supply. The clogging of the coronary arteries caused due to deposition of fatty cholesterol deposits causes narrowing of blood vessels directing blood to the heart. The rupture of the blood vessels followed by formation of blood clot interrupts the flow of blood to the heart, thus causing tissue death.

What are the Causes of Heart Attack?

A heart attack may arise when one or more arteries of the heart are blocked. This occurs over a period when the coronary arteries become narrow due to the buildup of cholesterol plaques in the coronary arteries.

The buildup of cholesterol plaques causes hardening of the blood vessels that could lead to the rupture and spillage of blood and cholesterol. The formation of clot at the rupture site prevents the blood flow to the heart.

The frequent use of tobacco and illicit drugs could lead to cardiac muscle spasms that shut down the blood flow to the heart. These may also turn out to be life-threatening as heart attack can be due to tear in the coronary artery.

What are the Symptoms of Heart Attack?

The typical symptoms of heart attack include:

  • Chest pain or chest discomfort
  • Cold sweat
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea, heartburn and indigestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling

Risk factors for Heart Attack:

Certain risk factors contribute to the buildup of fatty deposits that leads to the narrowing of blood vessels. These risk factors may be classified into modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors depending on the lifestyle habits.

Non-modifiable Risk Factors

The non-modifiable risk factors include:

  • Age: Men above the age of 45 and women above the age of 55 are at higher risk of developing heart attack when compared to younger individuals.
  • Sex: Men are at a greater risk of developing heart attack when compared to women.
  • Family history: Individuals with a family history of cardiac ailments associated with obesity or hypertension are at greater risk of heart attack.
  • Race: People of African descent are more prone to develop heart attacks.
  • Autoimmune disorders: Autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus can increase the risk of developing heart attack.

Modifiable Risk

The modifiable risk factors include:

  • Obesity: A high cholesterol levels followed by high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure and diabetes are associated with increased risk of heart attack. Lowering the body mass by 10% likely reduces the risk of heart attack.
  • High Cholesterol or Triglyceride Levels: High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol) or bad cholesterol in the blood most likely causes narrowing of the blood vessels due to cholesterol deposition. Similarly, high levels of triglycerides in the blood add up to increased risk of heart attack.
  • Tobacco: Smoking or exposure to secondary smoke on long run could increase the risk of heart attack.
  • Stress: The response to stress may determine the risk of developing heart attack.
  • Illicit Drug Use: The use of illicit drugs triggers spasms on the coronary arteries, thereby increasing the risk of heart attack.

Diagnosis of Heart Attack:

In an emergency setting, the doctor initially conducts physical examination such as blood pressure monitoring, pulse rate and body temperature that provides scope for further diagnosis and treatment. Further, electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood tests are performed to confirm heart attack.

  • Electrocardiogram: It is the first test conducted to confirm heart attack. The test is conducted by placing electrodes on the skin over different positions of the chest. The heart produces certain impulses that are recorded over ECG machine. Normal wave impulse is a sign of normal heart function, as affected heart tissue does not produce impulses.
  • Blood Test: Heart produces certain enzymes. Damage to the heart tissue results in the presence of these enzymes in the bloodstream. Thus, the presence of the cardiac enzymes in the blood samples confirms damage to the cardiac tissues.

Certain additional tests such as chest x-ray, echocardiogram, angiogram and exercise stress test are performed to rule out possibilities of other cardiac disorders.

Treatment for Heart Attack:

The primary focus of the treatment is to restore the blood and oxygen supply to the heart to prevent the death of the other cardiac tissues.

Pharmacological treatment includes administration of aspirin, thrombolytic, antiplatelet agents, nitroglycerin and antihypertensive drugs that are used to dissolve the clot and improve the blood supply to the heart.

In addition to pharmacological therapy, surgical interventions may be adopted to prevent further damage to the cardiac tissues.

  • Coronary Angioplasty and Stenting: A long thin catheter is inserted into the blood vessel by making an incision into the arm, wrist or the groin region. The movement of the catheter is directed to the coronary artery that is monitored through an x-ray monitoring machine. A balloon inserted along with the catheter inflates the affected region of the coronary artery and places a stent to prevent narrowing of the coronary artery
  • Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery: It is also known as open heart surgery. The surgeon bypasses the affected coronary artery with a synthetic vessel or a blood vessel from another part of the body that retains normal blood flow to the heart
  • Heart Valve Surgery: The heart valves are replaced following leaky hearts that maintains normal pumping of the heart
  • Pacemaker: The pacemaker device is implanted just underneath your skin that maintains the rhythms of the heart
  • Heart Transplant: The procedure is usually recommended when there is permanent damage is caused to the myocardial tissues

Prevention and Management of Heart Attack:

Incorporating certain lifestyle changes with the regular use of medicines maintains cardiac health and prevents further risk of heart attack and other complications.

  • Avoid Smoking: Quitting smoking and avoiding getting exposed to secondhand smoke plays a major role in improving cardiac function
  • Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Regulation: Maintaining a balanced diet with low salt and low fat intake along with regular use of antihypertensive and antihyperlipidemic drugs helps in maintaining optimum cholesterol and blood pressure levels
  • Regular Medical Check-ups: Scheduling regular diagnosis and medical checkups help in promoting cardiac health and helps in managing the symptoms of heart attack
  • Exercise: Regular exercise maintains optimum body weight and promotes cardiac function. Thus, walking for at least 30 minutes a day for at least five days a week promotes health
  • Stress Management: Stress can be reduced by managing work balance with regular exercise and other activities that act as stress buster. Minimizing stress in day to day life promotes longevity and good health.

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